From the Editor

Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting.
So . . . get on your way.

—Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!

 

Commencement is one of the most joyous occasions on campuses. As a time to celebrate and mark the end of students’ time at their alma maters, commencement calls upon graduates to envision their futures. This year—amid a Wall Street boom and disruptions caused by the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements—commencement speakers on campuses across the country offered a variety of insights about navigating our complicated world. The following quotes are a sampling of that wisdom.

“Whatever you choose for a career path,” actor Chadwick Boseman advised the Howard University graduating class, “remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”

Attorney and journalist Ronan Farrow told his Loyola Marymount University audience, “You will face a moment in your career where you have absolutely no idea what to do. Where it will be totally unclear to you what the right thing is for you, for your family, for your community . . . but trust that inner voice.”

“Before you go out in the world, map yourself,” film director Ava DuVernay recommended to the 2018 Cornell University class. “What will be your story? Your movie? You’re the director. You’re free to experience and interpret this life from this moment on as you decide, as you declare.”

As members of the class of 2018 begin to build their post-undergraduate paths, graduates who had the opportunity to participate in capstones and signature work will no doubt find those educational experiences to be invaluable. Signature work, the centerpiece of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) LEAP Challenge effort, calls for all college students to integrate and apply their learning to complex problems and projects that are important to the student and to society. When done well, capstones and signature work projects help students become critical thinkers skilled in analysis and argument.

This issue of Peer Review explores the work of AAC&U’s LEAP Challenge: Engaging in Capstones and Signature Work eight-campus consortium. Sponsored by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the project was led by Amy Jessen-Marshall, AAC&U vice president of the Office of Integrative Liberal Learning and the Global Commons, and Nancy Budwig, AAC&U senior fellow. Consortium members—administrators and faculty from Augustana College, Bates College, Clark University, Connecticut College, Elizabethtown College, Nebraska Wesleyan University, Oberlin College, and the College of William & Mary—worked with AAC&U to show how capstones and signature work can become essential and expected, rather than available and optional.

Instead of providing articles about individual campus perspectives, many of the pieces in this issue were written by teams from multiple consortium campuses to examine the topic through several lenses, including defining and framing signature work on campuses, curricular change and strategies for organizing signature work, student preparation for signature work, institutional readiness for signature work, and assessing signature work. Those articles are bookended by Budwig and Jessen-Marshall’s article on making the case for capstones and signature work and Jillian Kinzie’s observations about the state of signature work. By presenting the consortium’s research and reflections, we hope to advance conversation and support other campuses in scaling up their own signature work efforts.

As graduates move beyond campuses after commencement, their participation in capstones, signature work, and other high-impact educational practices will benefit students in all future endeavors. To this point, AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella recently shared this guidance with Mary Baldwin University’s graduating class: “The capacities engendered in you to think critically, to communicate clearly, to work in diverse teams on global issues, to make ethical judgments, to be adaptable and flexible in the face of rapid change, to apply your knowledge in real-world settings, and to engage in sympathetic imagination—imagining what it is like to be in the shoes of another different from oneself—will enable you to thrive in work, citizenship, and life.”

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